The imperfect season

You know how sports movies go. The underdog triumphs, against all odds.

So you can imagine my reaction when my son’s lacrosse team, winless in the regular season, took a 1-0 lead in the first round of the postseason.

They could actually do this. Get their first win. In. The. Playoffs. Cue the triumphant music!

And then the other team scored 12 straight goals. Let’s turn the music off.

So not every season has a Hollywood ending.

It was a tough season. They fought hard and lost a couple of close ones. They fought hard and lost by more than a touchdown a few times, which if you know that scoring in lacrosse goes by single goals and not touchdowns, you know that’s not a good thing.

The worst part of the season, though, was not the losing. Although that wasn’t fun. My son is 13 and well beyond the “just have fun no matter what” age. Winning is fun. Losing is not.

What I hated to see was several of the boys on the team quit because they were losing. (In middle school hallways, just a hunch they didn’t say, “I quit because my team is not good.” Pretty sure they said something in placed of “is not good.”

By the playoff game, they were down to one substitute. The other team, by my estimate, had roughly 400 kids to sub out, and several of them were larger than I am.

I get that it was a tough season to stomach. Wasn’t a whole lot of fun to watch most nights. All of us parents in the bleachers would trade these, “Yikes…” looks back and forth as we started off a game suddenly down 3-0 with only two minutes gone.

But I am proud of those boys who stuck with it and played through the very last minute of a grueling season. And I feel sorry for those boys who quit on the team. Because they also quit on themselves.

Hate to break it to teenagers, but this is the easy part of life. Sure, there are a lot of things about being a teenager that seem absolutely awful, from the awkwardness of growing up to acne to the current popular music.

When you quit when things are tough, you’ll never know how sweet victory tastes. I’ve played on a lot of sports teams in my life, some really good, some really bad. Had I not experienced the 0-for-the-season teams, I would not have enjoyed the championship seasons nearly as much.

But also now is when you learn how to lose, and it’s bigger than sports. Because you will lose in life. Lots. And if you develop the attitude that when you’re losing, you’ll just take your ball and go home? Boy does life have some unpleasant surprises for you.

Building character through a losing season starts you on a path to be able to endure the tougher losses that come in life. And I’m not talking about rec league lacrosse. I’m talking about real losses and real failures. Think you can just quit every time life’s a little rough and just move on? Think again. Some losses are permanent. You will have wanted a little taste of disappointment and powering through it. You don’t run a marathon without doing lots of training beforehand.

In the closing minute of the season, the team down 12-1, the boys kept fighting. They charged the goal hard, and one of the kids got free, whipped his stick and zipped one past the goalie. 12-2. The team cheered and hugged. The lone sub joined them on the field. Team. Fighting. Together.

They lost 13-2. At the end, they lined up for what is always my favorite part of youth sports — the good game, good game, good game handshake.

This is probably the last sports team my son will play on. He’s at the age now where the kids are moving on to very competitive levels, and while he enjoys sports, I don’t think he wants to devote the time it takes to be on that next level. He’d be rather be out in the woods catching critters, and that’s OK.

But he stuck with it. He persevered. He battled through the worst season, record-wise, he could. And he and the remaining kids fought until the end. I know people like to complain about “participation trophies.” But sometimes, when you’re O-fer, perhaps we should consider “perseverance trophies.” Those last 11 kids could have quit, too. But they proved to themselves that you fight to the finish, even when the journey is kicking your tail. And whether or not they know it, these young men took way more away from this season than any championship could have given them. Cue the music.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Charleston. You can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.

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